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Citrus peel

Citrus sinensis

Common Names
Sweet orange

Parts Used
Fruit, peel

Herbal Actions

Carminative, bitter, nutritive, astringent, aromatic, antidepressant, antispasmodic, nervine


Tissues Affected

Gastrointestinal tract, cardiovascular system, nervous system, and the respiratory system.  



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Save those peels!

Citrus sinensis is a member of the sweet orange group, along with blood and navel oranges, and it is the peel of the fruits that are used for medicine. The fresh peels are broken into small pieces while fresh and then dried before use. You can do this process with any type of oranges you eat at home. In the winter months, when mandarins are in season we keep a basket on the kitchen counter for collecting the peels. Every time a mandarin is eaten, the peel gets tossed in the basket to dry for medicine rather than sending it to the compost.

Periodically, I go through the basket of fresh peels to tear them into smaller pieces by hand and spread them out so that they dry evenly. Once fully dried the peels will be hard and snap when broken. This is when they are ready to store in a glass jar with tight fitting lid. If you jar them before they are fully dried the moisture inside the peels will cause them to mold.

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The dried peels are both sweet tasting and bitter. They have a pleasant aroma when made into tea or powder, but the flavor is complex with a perfume like fragrance that has both some bitter and sweetness.  Citrus acts on the metabolism of digestive tract, the lungs, the nervous system, and the cardiovascular system. It is best prepared as a tea, but can also be made into syrup, or ground into powder and then taken in applesauce or honey.

"C. sinensis is consumed all over the world as an excellent source of vitamin C, which is a powerful natural antioxidant that builds the body’s immune system. It has been used traditionally to treat ailments like constipation, cramps, colic, diarrhea, bronchitis, tuberculosis, cough, cold, obesity, menstrual disorder, angina, hypertension, anxiety, depression and stress."

Excerpt taken from, "Chemistry and Pharmacology of Citrus sinensis

Medicinal Use

Its primary use is for actions on the digestive tract as well as for its high antioxidant flavonoid compounds.  In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Citrus peel is used to stimulate “Spleen Chi,” which is a metabolic element of digestion. Herbs for Spleen Chi aid the absorption and assimilation of nutrients from food by improving circulation and digestive fluids within the GI tract. Spleen Chi is responsible for the transformation of food into tissue, which is a kin to the term ‘Agni’ in Ayurveda and ‘pepsin’ in Unani systems of medicine. 

Citrus peel fuels "Digestive Fire"

In Ayurveda, the word 'Agni' is used to describe the digestive fire that transforms food into tissues. In Unani Tibb (Greek Arabic Medicine), the word 'Pepsin' describes this very same process. In all traditional systems of medicine, the digestive tract resembles a furnace. It creates heat in order to break down food and assimilate nutrients. Only then can nutrients be used in the metabolic process of building up tissues and tissue regeneration. This digestive fire will burn better when fed with well-prepared ingredients.

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Much like the fire that burns in your woodstove, the quality of heat in the entire house depends on the quality of wood you put in it. If you feed a fire with wet wood the fire becomes smoky and won’t heat the house very well. Good quality food is like dry cut firewood that will burn bright, hot, and clean to create heat throughout the entire system. A fire that burns clean will leave only ash behind with no charcoal. Much like well digested food the waste product should have no chunks of undigested food in the stool. As this is symptom is considered a sign of cold digestion and weak metabolic fire. 

This concept is of the transformation of food into tissues through the element of digestive fire is in every traditional system of medicine around the world. In TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine), ‘Spleen Chi’ has more to do with this digestive fire than it does with the actual organ called the spleen. In physiology, the spleen is an immune organ that all lymphatic fluid flows into. There are dense concentrations lymphatic vessels woven into the digestive tract. Lymph nodes are modules of immune components and these are integrated into the surface of the gut lining known as Payer’s Patches.  If we think of the immune system as an inseparable part of digestive processes then we see how the Chinese concept of spleen could be associated with digestion and nutrient absorption.  In Unani Tibb, this same concept of the fire of transformation that turns food into tissue through digestion is called ‘Pepsis’ - as in relation to the word pepsin, which is the digestive enzyme that breaks down proteins in the stomach.

Citrus peel enhances this fiery digestive process. In today’s terms we say that it helps with nutrient absorption, but now you know so much more than that by understanding digestive fire. It is this warming action on the system along with its uplifting fragrance that make Citrus useful as an antidepressant. All things warm and delicious smelling help with depression.

Citrus peel is a Flavonoid-rich Superfood

Now let’s talk about flavonoid content. Flavonoids are essential cofactors for nutrients like vitamin C, and are what make cherries red and oranges orange. Quercetin, Rutin, and Hesperidin are flavonoids found in Citrus peel, that play a powerful roll in immunity and inflammation. Citrus peel is a flavonoid-rich superfood. The white pithy layer on the underside of the peel contains a density of the antioxidant flavonoid hesperidin. Likewise, the zest of the peel (the orange part) contains another spectrum of flavonoids, including rutin and quercetin. Altogether these compounds improve tissue integrity and vascular quality, helping with conditions like hypertension and menstrual discomforts. These plant constituents increase tissue integrity, making our blood vessels stronger, our lungs more elastic, and our immune systems more resistant to infection.

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Isolated supplements of flavonoids like quercetin are used for their anti-inflammatory effects on respiratory conditions, like asthma, allergies, bronchitis, and the like. However the simple peels you discard from eating an orange have the very same medicinal effects. Just like eating a regular dose of green vegetables, we all need a regular intake of flavonoids.

Preparation & Dosage

This herb is best prepared by infusion to make a tea. Place a handful of dried citrus peel into a quart sized jar and top it with boiling water. Cover with tight fitting lid and let steep for a couple hours until room temperature. Strain and serve hot or cold. Add honey if you like.


This herb is very safe, has no contraindications, and can be taken as often as you like.  It can be taken alone or blended with other herbs. It will have a sweet delicate aroma with slight bitter afternotes.

Citrus peel Recipes

Click the image below for tasty Citrus peel Recipes.

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Click here to watch my instructional video on how to make Citrus Thyme Syrup


  • Bergner, Paul. Advanced Herbal Actions and Formulation course materials.

  • Chishti N.D., Hakim G.M. The Traditional Healer's Handbook: A Classic Guide to the Medicine of Avicenna. Rochester: Healing Arts Press, 1988.
  • "Chemistry and Pharmacology of Citrus sinensis"

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